It’s not what you know, its who your ancestors were!

If your surname reveals that your family came over from Normandy, the last time that England was conquered, then even today you are more likely to be upper class than the average member of the population in Britain. Quite astonishingly, the social status of your ancestors has more influence on your life chances than on your height. Normans recorded as property owners in the Domesday book of 1086 are 16 times more likely to be at Oxford or Cambridge in 1170 and still 25% more likely that their ancestors are there today.

Gregory Clark of the University of California, Davis and Neil Cummins from the London School of Economics have published an article in the Journal of Human Nature that shows that social mobility from 1170 to 2012 has always been slow and even now is not much greater than in the pre-industrial period.

An example being the Bunduck family whose name regularly appeared in the registers of the Oxbridge universities consistently from the 12th century until the modern day. The Bunducks were also found on the rich property owners’ database, which is another suggestion that they were of a higher class as is their appearance on the 19th century probate registry.

‘Strong forces of familial culture, social connections, and genetics must connect the generations,’ said Mr Clark.

‘Even more remarkable is the lack of a sign of any decline in status persistence across major institutional changes, such as the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth century, the spread of universal schooling in the late nineteenth century, or the rise of the social democratic state in the twentieth century,’ added Mr Cummins.

Source: The Son Also Rises: Surnames and the History of Social Mobility. Gregory Clark (with Neil Cummins, Yu Hao, and Daniel Diaz Vidal and others), 2014. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

The Son Also Rises

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